Growing in the likeness of Jesus is the clearly defined will of God for the life of a Christian (see Romans 8:29). Our obedience to this will requires intentionality to join with God in His work of grace on our lives. We see negative examples throughout the New Testament of Christians who had apparently put aside their deliberate pursuit of Godliness. One such passage is Hebrews 5:11-12, where the first century Jewish-Christians are told, ‘…you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again’. Just like timely development is a sign of physical health, progress in Godliness is a sure marker of spiritual well-being in the Christian.
Of course, one of our great challenges is that the world we live in offers so many prospects for our attention to be diverted. While I firmly believe that setting aside time to just relax and enjoy God and your family is both good and beneficial, I do not think the bible commends giving ourselves over to large amounts of time spent on worthless pursuits. Jesus told the church through the Apostle Paul: ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil’ Ephesians 5:16 In reality, the world is full of opportunities to engage in that which is unfruitful, pointless, and without lasting value. And for us to avoid falling into this pit we must continually examine how we use our time. In 2016, hours upon hours of entertainment is readily available to us at a moment’s notice. How often do we lose track of time on our favorite social media app, watching countless hours of our favorite videos, or ridding the world of the zombie apocalypse on our smart phone? None of those things are sinful in themselves, unless they pull us from the greatest pursuit of this life: Christ and His Kingdom. Our flesh desires to be entertained, and the culture is ready to satisfy that craving in countless ways. Yet all the while we run the risk of becoming people who have stopped trying to understand the word of God, and are failing to grow in his purposes for us.
Most of us know that any endeavor we wish to become good at, will require training. Even if we have a natural ability inside of us, we must still work to perfect it. And this is no different with growing in godliness. Paul mentored his young protégé Timothy, telling him to ‘Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness’ 1 Timothy 4:7. In the original language, the word Paul chose here is Gymnazo, which rightfully takes our mind to the word gymnasium; a place where you would put your efforts toward being in good physical condition. And Paul uses this word to urge Timothy to use the same physical and emotional force toward training for spiritual growth. And just like going to the gymnasium for a workout is hard, likewise it will be a challenge to discipline ourselves for the purpose of Christ-likeness. But by God’s grace this pursuit will bring long term results – even more beneficial than physical exercise.
When my wife and I teach parenting classes through Lifeline’s Families Count ministry, we continually remind the moms and dads that we, the parents, are setting the pace for our children when it comes to spiritual development. The environment that we create, is not only the one that our children are growing in now; but most likely the one that they will emulate in their own homes later in life. I believe it is critical for our own spiritual well-being to often lie down, turn off, and put away those empty pursuits which we find ourselves routinely succumbing to, and relying fully on the Holy Spirit to replace those with deliberate spiritual searches, that include goals for growth in Godliness. And in the process, we are giving an example for our children to follow by displaying the immeasurable value and beauty of Jesus, and the worthiness of the pursuit of His image.